Arrow-right Camera

Washington Voices

Small COPS shop shopping for helpers

Thu., Sept. 22, 2011

Clifford Drake, president of COPS North Central, stands in front of the shop on West Shannon Avenue. (Pia Hallenberg)
Clifford Drake, president of COPS North Central, stands in front of the shop on West Shannon Avenue. (Pia Hallenberg)

Located in a restored warehouse just off Indiana Avenue, COPS North Central is the last of Spokane’s 12 Community Oriented Policing Services shops to be profiled this summer. And it just happens to be one of the smallest ones.

“I would really like to have the neighborhood observation patrols come back,” said President Clifford Drake, “but right now I’m the only one here who has the training to do so, and I can’t go alone. You have to go two at a time.”

Drake said he could partner up with a volunteer from another COPS shop, but scheduling gets complicated that way and everyone is hurting for volunteers.

“It would be so much easier if we just had the people here,” Drake said, adding that he is also the treasurer for the shop. “And the clean upcrew, and pretty much everything else.”

COPS North Central still has a Block Watch program but no volunteer to coordinate Block Watch activities at the shop.

“There are Block Watches throughout the Emerson Garfield neighborhood, we know that, but we can’t do much to help them right now,” said Drake. “It’s just so hard to get people to volunteer these days.”

COPS North Central was activated in 1995 and it took a couple of years before the shop found its current home in a building that’s part warehouse and part office. Since then, the owner of the warehouse has never charged rent.

“We are very lucky that way,” said Drake.

Drake is also the coordinator of Operation Family ID for all the COPS shops.

Together with volunteer Kathy Hamm, who’s at COPS North Central as part of an AARP job skills program, Drake goes to community events and signs families up for the ID service.

“We take their picture and we ask for permission to fingerprint the kids, then we make a DVD for the family to take home,” said Drake. “We ask for a donation of one dollar, but if you don’t have it we don’t turn you away.” The information is not stored anywhere except on the DVD the family gets. Operation Family ID is meant as preparedness kit for if a child goes missing.

“They will have all they need for an Amber Alert,” said Drake. “Hopefully they will never need it.” At the recent Unity in the Community event at Riverfront Park, 100 families were registered.

The day-to-day calls and emails to COPS North Central are mostly about neighbor complaints, graffiti and theft. The COPS shop also gets a lot of found property.

“It’s amazing how difficult it is to get people to lock their cars,” said Drake. “And they leave stuff in them all the time – in plain sight.” Neighbor complaints are typically about barking dogs or parking issues.

“Sometimes people are just being stubborn,” said Drake.

He has volunteered for COPS for almost 10 years, starting at the COPS Northwest.

Like many other COPS shops, COPS North Central houses parole officers for the Washington State Department of Corrections, and it serves as a break room and office away from home for Spokane police officers.

“We sometimes have as many as 10 officers here at a time,” said Hamm. “Between helping the Department of Corrections and the Spokane officers, that in itself justifies keeping the COPS shops open.”

Yet volunteer recruiting remains an issue.

Drake said he’s always asking for volunteers when he’s at events with Operation Family ID, or at other COPS events.

“You’d think with people being unemployed we’d be able to get more volunteers,” said Drake. “I know you have to look for jobs when you are on unemployment, but I don’t think it says anywhere that you can’t volunteer.”

Click here to comment on this story »